Chronicles: Ambitiously Adapting in Europe, Part 1

January 22, 2010 by  

Ambition. To have more. To have any. That’s my resolution for 2010. Just like it was for 2009. But in 2009, it wasn’t to be. Too much wound licking. Too little interest. Wanting only praise, regardless of my oft-lackluster performance. But 2009 is over and it ended well. Time to be ambitious again. Perhaps for the first time.


And an hour before we leave we have a new dog. He’s a slightly sick and quite hungry puppy made up of countless other breeds of countless other dogs. Born on the street, he finds me pulling away from my house on a last-minute errand. I give him a little food and a little attention and he cries for more of both. And so now we have five dogs. We get to know him long enough for Emilia to name him – Zé Aparecido.

So, knowing little hungry Zé for just an hour or so, we leave Brazil on a family trip to Italy. My wife, her parents, her two sisters, her brother, my Dad and myself. Three weeks that will somehow be simultaneously an eternity and a flash. We’re off to Europe, leaving little Zé with four other dogs and a house sitter. We wonder if he’ll remember us when we finally return.


My father meets us in Rome. He travels all the way from his home in California to spend the holidays with my Brazilian family, at the bequest of my Father-in-Law. It’s my Dad’s first Christmas since his wife, my mother, died. It’s also the year anniversary since her death. Is that what it’s called? An anniversary? Seems wrong. I feel rather disinterested in the time line, however. One day, fifty days, or three-hundred-and-sixty-five days. It’s all the same to me. I still miss my Mom. And so does my Dad.

At 70, it’s his first trip to Europe and I’m happy he’s coming. I’m happy to help do something for him during what should be a difficult time. My opportunities to help subside his grief are limited from Brazil, and even more limited due to my general disdain for the telephone and his lack of e-mail skills. So extravagant gestures are my only recourse. And this promises to be just that – aside from Italy, my father and I will make a side trip to Naila, Germany, where my grandfather was born 99 years ago. Going with my father to see his father’s fatherland. But that’s another story.


We stay in Tuscany between Siena and Florence. Within the first few days, it’s obvious that we all enjoy Siena much more. Florence has more history than anyone can take in and has its beauty. But it’s a large, sprawling city that leads tourists this way and that until even the GPS system decides to shut off rather than take blame for the whole affair. On the other hand, Siena is small and tidy. While Florence is a circus tent full of random acts in random places, Siena is contained. It fits us.


A Christmas tradition. Each Christmas, my Brazilian family picks a member to write and read a “Christmas Message.” This year is my turn. My first reaction is to punt. I’ve been writing for a while now, and know how to put words together. I can protect my emotions while still writing something that smacks of true human feeling.

But I remember ambition. And the long road that got me to Italy in the first place. So here is what I wrote, and read that Christmas morning:

“When Emilia (my wife) was just 15, she ventured from Brazil to California to be an exchange student. On one of her first days at her new American school – unable to understand the language or culture – the school held a “Pep Rally.” At a Pep Rally in high school, the entire school congregates in the gym to support the school’s football team.

Pep Rallies are held only before a game and are generally enthusiastic affair. Cheerleaders bounded in shouting and dancing. Students stood and yelled. A student came in wearing a bear costume, as the school was nicknamed the Bears. A school official came in and shouted enthusiastic words.

And there Emilia was, wondering what the Hell was going on? Was this a two-minute Hate, as she’d read in the book “1984”? And what was the deal with the big squirrel (The bear costume wasn’t very well made). And why so much yelling and clapping? Emilia, a little Brazilian girl far from home was surrounded by noisy confusion in the middle of her school day, and just tried to do what everyone else did, though she had no idea why.

And just as it started, the Pep rally ended and everyone went to class. The next day, she waited for the Pep rally to occur again, but it never did. American high school can be a confusing and scary place for a young Brazilian.

This Christmas, I bring a message of adaptation. How we all must adapt to new circumstances, both big and small, throughout our lives. And how these adaptations are such an important part of our lives on so many levels.

For myself and my family, this year has been about the worst type of adaptation. Adapting to life without my Mother. It is the type of adapting you never want to make, but life is limited, and we will all have to go through these type of changes. One year later, my Dad and I sit with you all in a room filled with love. My Dad has adapted and continues to bravely work to adapt to a new life he didn’t want.

But he adapts as we all must. While each day is a struggle, there are signs of light. There are trips to see long-hidden family members in Germany. There is more time spent with his daughters and other family. Next year, my niece will have her second child, and my Dad will adapt in a much more wondrous way as he meets his new great-grandchild for the first time. For my father and my family, the loss of my Mother means adapting to an eternal hole in our hearts. But with my father setting the example, we all adapt as we must and we are rewarded with life’s many gifts.

I have adapted in many ways and many times in my life. Ten years ago, I’d never have imagined I’d be sitting in Italy with a group of Brazilians who love and care about myself and my family. But you are all now my family in every way imaginable. It has been a beautiful adaptation.

So this Christmas, let us look at the changes we have all gone through over the years and the changes that will inevitably come. And know that – just as Emilia finally learned what a Pep Rally was about – that with time and love as our companions, we are all strong enough to adapt to changes both good and bad.

May this Christmas bring only the best and most wonderful changes to our lives, and let all our adaptations be joyous. And whether these changes are big or small, personal or shared, let us be thankful that we will always have the love that is present in this house and safe in the knowledge that this love will remain and grow. The love of family that we all share will always be with us. Because life is change and we all must adapt. But we are blessed to be safe in the knowledge that we will never have to adapt to lives without the love that fills this room. The love that makes this a truly special and joyous Christmas.”

My words are well-received. My Brazilian family has known me for nearly a decade and this is one of the only times they’ve seen me open up. It was by no means easy. And while every word is heartfelt, I can’t help but wonder if I’m ready to adapt to all the changes that will come in life. But those are to come. Now is the time to revel in family and try harder to be a part of it. And to wonder how little Zé is adapting to his new home.

… to be continued.


Previous Chronicles entries:

The Kindness of German Strangers


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